Kids can go missing in an instant. One minute, your child is right beside you. You pause to admire some bling in a shop window and when you turn back — your child is gone.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) reports that more than 460,000 children go missing in the U.S. every year. Kids are especially at risk during the holidays when they’re out of school and with their families at crowded shopping malls or well-attended holiday events.
“The holiday season is a busy time, but in the midst of this busyness it is important to take steps to ensure the safety of our children,” said Lt. Timothy Pols, Wyoming Dept. of Public Safety.
Here are some tips on how to keep your kids safe in public this holiday season.
- Write your cell phone number on the child’s wrist, then cover it with liquid band aid. If you get separated, you can be contacted immediately. Do NOT include your child’s name.
- On your way out of the house, take a photo of the child on your cell phone. That way you can show people exactly how he or she looks that day.
The Family Education website offers even more ideas:
- Talk to your kids before a family outing. Make it a rule that you must always be able to see them and they must always be able to see you. It may sound simple, but keep reminding them periodically, especially if you think they’re getting restless.
- Use the “two giant steps” rule — your kids can never be more than two giant steps away from you. It’s a fun and easy way for young children to remember not to wander away.
- Teach your kids that if they ever become separated from you, they should look for a “safe stranger” for help. Some examples include a mom with kids or a cash register person. With older children, agree on a “meeting place” ahead of time, in case you become separated.
- Tell your child never to leave the mall or store to go looking for you, no matter what anyone tells them. Remind your child that you would never leave until you are reunited.
- In busy places like airports or shopping malls, consider using a cute harness for toddlers who are prone to running off. There are lots of fun ones out there. Your child’s safety is most important, so don’t worry about what others think.
- Establish the “check first” rule with older children. They must always check first with you before going anywhere in a public place, including another store, play area or even the restroom.
- Don’t treat public facilities as a “convenient babysitter.” Do not leave your children alone at video arcades, movie theaters, play areas or other public places. Predators look for unsupervised kids.
- Always bring young children into the restroom with you. Look for well-lit restrooms in high traffic areas whenever possible.
- Statistically, the men’s room isn’t the safest place for a child to use alone. If you feel comfortable letting your older child (at least 9 years old) use the men’s room alone, stand outside the door and call in as your child enters, “I’m right out here if you need me.” It’s a clear signal to anyone who may be hanging around in there that there’s a parent close by. Your child is less of a target if a potential predator thinks there’s a chance he could be caught. If you think your child’s taking too long, open the door and call in, “Is everything okay?” If you don’t get an answer or are unsure, enter the restroom immediately to be sure your child is safe. (Informing your child that you’ll be doing this will encourage him to answer you quickly and not linger.)
- Discuss age-appropriate safety issues with your child in a calm, non-fearful manner. Replace the word “strangers” with “tricky people.” Let your child know that it isn’t what people look like that makes them unsafe; it’s what they ask a child to do that makes someone “thumbs down.” Kids have been known to leave with a stranger because “he seemed nice” or “she didn’t look like a stranger.”
- Make sure that your child knows your cell phone number.
Don’t have kids but know someone who does? Be sure to share these tips!